New York

Nancy Wilson Kitchel

M.L. D'Arc Gallery

The six deserted desks in two parallel rows were carefully unkempt, a drawer open here, a stuffed wastebasket there. They were presided over by what Olivetti calls a word processing system, converting computer tape into yards of Nancy Wilson Kitchel’s analysis of social strategies in the art/business world. As artist and officeworker, Kitchel has a carrying card in both sectors. Her statement, rolling out of the machine and onto the floor like a proclamation, explored a progression of contradictions about the individual’s illusion of autonomy in the controlled systems of art and business. At the crux of the layers of deception and self-deception is the common “conspiratorial wink” between artist and gallery goer that they are in but not of these money- and image-grubbing rituals. At the end of 9 1/2 feet of printout the $8,000 machine donated for the piece’s duration confided, “The piece itself is an intellectualization. What is there to experience? The experiential art is all behind the reception desk.”

Except for a black semi-circular reception desk dragged out of a storeroom for the occasion and partially blocking the way to the gallery’s inner rooms, there was no opposition to this come-on. And there was an inducement: immediately beyond the desk hung three ink drawings by Kitchel, anatomical comparisons between human and dog bone structure such as those found in biology texts. Other gallery artists’ work had been hung in the second room adjoining this back wall. On the room’s floor five notebooks by Kitchel rested on a black right-angled block at the precise height to be read most easily by kneeling.

In that compromising position I read the numbered and neatly arranged documentation of the Demon Lover, an incubus of single-minded ferocity. Testimony by victims, bystanders, Kitchel, the Demon, newspaper clippings, photographs, and psychiatry textbook pages blurred episodes into rampant paranoia—compiled in typescript and Kitchel’s careful handwriting. The first four notebooks were color xeroxed onto legal-size paper; many of the entries, as well as the notebook paper itself, had been separately colored before reproduction. The fifth notebook was 8 1/2“ x 11”, and beneath its colored first page was xeroxed in black and white. The method matched the contents, mostly tabloid stories of sensational murders and torturings, sprinkled with more high-tone stories like The New York Times’ “Many Rebels of the 1960s Are Depressed as 30 Nears.”

When I stood up one of the gallery directors ushered me into her office to view more of Kitchel’s work on display. A series of five captioned ink drawings was mounted on the wall, accompanied by a looseleaf notebook titled How Do Men Turn Into Dogs. The drawings transformed man to dog. Through magazine and newspaper photographs, along with descriptive texts, the notebook compared obedience-training undergone by both species. The first World Art Market Conference was held at the New School a few days before Kitchel’s show opened. Leo Castelli’s comment at the conference, “I’m not looking for activity, I’m looking for stars,” is, I would think, a fair example of what she means by the master’s end of the leash.

Along the bloody trail of her Demon notebooks Kitchel had hailed herself as a “half-mad librarian” concocting vicarious experience. “That’s all that is really required of me—to make it believable, make it sound right. It doesn’t have to be correct.” In her 1974 show at 112 Greene Street the reader read up on recent developments in Kitchel’s private life and fantasies in notebooks gathered at four discreetly lit reading desks. At M. L. D’Arc the librarian has done herself one step better: you don’t even need notebooks on the desks to make a story. The dazzlingly bleak office mockup and hyperventilated autonomy/autocracy dialogue courtesy computer—that is, the official installation—required no more gothic frills. My further quest for the sanctum sanctorum (is it kneeling before the five holy books? is it entering a genuine gallery office?) merely followed the blind magnetism of yet more paper, more evidence, more politics, more introspection.

Barbara Baracks